The House of Christmas

Neil Anderson, Head of School

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:41-44).

I recently sent a text to a young man who lives on on the other side of the country. Let’s say his name is Thomas. Thomas is a gifted musician, struggling to make sense of his life. I used to meet with Thomas years ago. We would talk about his struggles and doubts, then he moved away. I don’t know if you’ve ever experience the compulsion of the Lord to engage someone, maybe somewhat randomly, with some form of encouragement. I believe God uses his people this way–to be his unexpected voice, at an unexpected time. 

I am not going to lie, when this happens, and I truly believe it is God’s special motivation, there is an excitement that maybe what you are about to communicate–the letter you are going to pen, the gift you are going to drop off–is going to be just what the person needed and at just the right time. 

In this case, I was at my home desk, studying the life of Hemingway to be better prepared to lead our seniors into further consideration of whether this man should have our admiration of not. A song came on my iTunes playlist that was by this musician, Thomas, who I had known. His number was still in my phone, so I sent him a text under Holy Spirit unction. I was moved. He was not. 

My text included the phrase, “I hope you are finding deep satisfaction in these days?” His response was simple and cold. “I don’t think anyone is finding deep satisfaction these days.” The words were a swift kick to the gut. Winds departed the sails. 

I began to do what I do best–reflect. 

This same evening, our family had just come across this Chesterton poem in the advent book that we use. 

The House Of Christmas 
G.K. Chesterton 
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

We have used the same book for about six or seven years now, and even though I’m a Chesterton fan, I don’t recall paying much attention to this poem in the past. I have other favorites. But… this is the beauty of good art. It stays actively willing to grab you in different ways, at different times, and in different seasons. I realize many of you just skimmed the poem above because that’s what you do anytime you see a poem quoted. Please go back and read it. It has more important things to say than I do. I’ll wait…

“But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings / And our peace is put in impossible things.” Yes! What wonderful couple of lines of poetry. 

(I usually listen to music as I write, and sometimes I’m compelled to insert the playlist because it is all lining up. Right now, the bridge to Nothings Stands Between Us by John Mark Macmillan is playing as a perfect back drop. Feel free to put it on.) 

Chesterton is attempting to capture the magical, mysterious, impossible, unthinkable, earth-shaking aspects of the nativity, the elements we tend to lose. “We have hands the fashion and heads that know” but our hearts have been lost. Or as Wordsworth reminds us, “We have given our hearts away.” The “house of Christmas” is “in a place no chart or ship can show.”  The house of Christmas is “as wild as an old wives’ tale.” The happenings of the house are “older than eden” and “taller than Rome.” Chesterton calls us back to “the way of the wandering star” and to remember “the things that cannot be and that are.” 

It should not be possible that people are finding deep satisfaction in “these days.” But these are things that cannot be and that are. I chose not to argue with Thomas but rather just to pray. But there was a voice inside that yelled over to him across the states, “Oh, but we are! We are finding deep satisfaction.” Especially in all the moments, sprinkled through our days, when we remember that the story is true. When we remember the force of the nativity. 

I realize this may offend some, but for the most part, I really cannot tolerate the Christian film industry. I typically find it unhelpful. But, recently, I was convinced to give The Chosen a try. This is a new series of episodes following the life of Jesus. I must admit, I have loved these episodes. If you would, look up the episode entitled The Shepherd ( I believe you can find it on YouTube, but preferably you would download the free app that plays them so you don’t have to endure the commercials that are a terrible interruption in a show like this). 

The episode tracks the narrative of the rag-tag group of shepherds who become the recipients of the angelic announcement. The specific focal point is the crippled shepherd boy who longs for relief. We experience a beautiful scene as the story builds toward the climax of a humble shepherd boy, running in slow motion through a field, filled with the sense that everything is about to change. The pull of the cosmic force of the Christ-child. 

I wanted to tell Thomas that the miracle of the deep satisfaction of our longings is always right around the corner, just across the field. The announcement will come on a normal night. And it when it comes, you will run.  

In case you were wondering, the fire-drake is a dragon. Chesterton assumes we know this, that we shouldn’t have to look it up. Just as Lewis reminds us, if we don’t know these things, we have not been raised on the right kind of books. A dragon reference in a nativity poem? It’s a simple nod to the idea that the doorway back to the impossible things is through the imagination of the heart. It’s a heart-level belief that Jesus came to the earth by the ways of myths and legends. The baby is born and the force is strong with this one. 

I promised myself that I would not use the words “pandemic” or “covid” in this talk. But I can’t help it. When Thomas texted me back, I think he meant to remind me that times are bad and that I that should rethink my overly optimist attitude. I think my optimism offended him. Make no mistake, it’s not as if I don’t have dark days. But then, I hear the cries in the manger. I run the field. I remember he has come. The hope Jesus brings is not something that can be canceled. The dark days don’t sow doubt. They sow deeper longing. The bleaker it gets, the more I look to take harbor in the house of Christmas–the place where God was homeless, but all men are at home.